Now comes the hard part.
At least is always feels that way. No one penciled Missouri in to win the SEC East last season. In fact, the Tigers were not even ranked nationally until October. Then again, they had not played anyone along the way, either.
This fall the schedule sets up for Missouri to get rolling early before a difficult stretch in the middle of the year that includes a trip to South Carolina, a bye week, hosting Georgia and then a road trip to Florida. If the Tigers can win two of those three games they will have a chance to repeat as division champions – but no one is betting that they will.
Just like much of the rest of the SEC, Missouri is rebuilding its offense. Gone are many of the playmakers people got used to hearing from last fall. There is some confidence, or at least not much concern, about sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk. The Texas native started four games in place of James Franklin after he got hurt in Athens. Mauk got rave reviews for his play, but as a starter he only completed more than half of his passes in one game.
But he played well enough for Missouri to win three of those games, and that was all they needed to get to Atlanta. If Mauk is not the question mark then what is?
Everyone else is gone.
So don’t expect the same sort of fireworks we’ve seen in the past from Missouri. The defense, too, is younger. It appears several freshmen could be starting on defense for the Tigers… that didn’t go well for Georgia last fall.
Three years into the SEC, Missouri appears to be heading toward the same track they were on in the Big 12: occasional 10-win seasons followed by seasons of eight wins or fewer. In other words, they look a lot like Arkansas over the last two decades.
Let’s be clear, however, 2013 was a banner year for the Tigers. Missouri hasn’t won a conference championship in football since 1969. They have only won their division two other times in school history. We need to recognize the high-water mark for the Tigers.
The question (again, the hard part) is to know just what the future holds for Missouri in the SEC. Florida, Georgia and Tennessee didn’t have very good years last year. South Carolina, which needed two overtimes, beat Missouri. 2013 may just have been the year where everything lined up for the Tigers – and you do get credit for that.